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Tree and shrub choices in the Upper Midwest

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show;  Tree and shrub choices for the upper Midwest

I had the opportunity to interview Don Engebretson, the Renegade Gardener about one of his books “Tree and Shrub Gardening in Minnesota and Wisconsin”.  You’ll understand why he’s the “renegade” after listening to the interview!  I’ve attached the podcast of our chat at the bottom of this page.

This book is co-authored by Don Williamson and is not only filled with 850 trees, shrubs and vines to envision in your landscape but it’s also a wonderful tool to guide you in your planting and pruning.  There’s also a section on Pests and Problems.

There are many varieties that were never on my radar.  Now they are!  The Fringe tree or Chionanthus…

Fringe Tree aka chionanthus

I love the multi-stems on this tree and the “Santa beard” flowers.

‘Santa’s beard’ flowers

The “Dons” have written 3 books in this style.  Of course, this one on Trees and Shrubs and also Perennials and Annuals.

Always look to buy books locally first, same as plants!  Did I mention there are great photographs in the book as well.  Oh and a section on problems and pests too.  The book vets about 850 different plants from American Bittersweet to Yews.  What you won’t find are edible fruit trees.  These are all ornamentals but boy, howdy, are they ornamental!  Of course there’s always a slight exception – one of the shrubs listed produces nuts.  The Hazelnut also known as Filbert is native and features tasty nuts, if you’re patient and plant male and female varieties.  The unique twisted branches of the corkscrew hazelnut adds amazing winter interest.

My interview with The Renegade Gardener, Don Engebretson for “15 with the Author”

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Pretty petunias – 2017 style

Click below to listen to my  Garden Bite radio show:  Pretty petunias – 2017 style

have to give props to the people who propagated these new petunias!  They’ve come a LONG way in a couple of decades!  German breeders have added some stunners.  2017 has seen a plethora of pretty petunias beginning with ‘Night Sky’.  It’s nothing less than breathtaking as it really looks like a night sky.  Purple or dark blue with random white spots, each flower is different.  It’s full and mounding and reaches up to 16 inches tall with a spread of 2 to 4 feet.

I was just recently at a bridal shower and the woman hosting it had this beauty!

Night Sky

I have to show you this to you up close!!!!

The crazytunia series has been adding some crazy combinations over the last several years.  For 2017 they added ‘Cherry Cheesecake’ – a sweet white flower with the edges nipped with red.  This one grows to just 10 inches with a spread of 2 feet.

‘Cherry Cheesecake’

‘Moonstruck’ has a yellow center that blends into purple petals and ‘Citrus Twist’ is bright orange with yellow and red tones.


‘Citrus Twist’

Calibrachoa are closely related to petunias, in fact, looking just like tiny ones!  I love these.A new offering is Starshine ‘violet’ and Starshine ‘Apricot’.  They also grown to 10 inches tall with about a 2 foot spread.  Making them spectacular plants for containers.  They bloom and rebloom from Spring to Fall.

And you have to see the new Minifamous NEO series selection called ‘Vampire’ – not surprisingly it’s blood red!  Another 2017 introduction is ‘Pink Strike’!


‘Pink Strike’

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Summer solstice

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Summer solstice

Happy Summer Solstice!

Sun comic

You would think that since it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the Earth is closest to the Sun right now, but it’s the opposite – the Earth is actually farthest from the Sun during this time of the year.  The longest day and shortest night brings us full blown into summer heat, although we’ve already experienced the heat and humidity!  My herbs, tomatoes and peppers are rejoicing.  And the roses this year….

Carpet roses

Carpet roses

Rose 'Music Box'

Rose ‘Music Box’

The Celts and Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing, so cut loose and do the Happy Dance!

We’re beginning to enjoy some harvests from our vegetable gardens and taking advantage of Farmers Markets all over the state.  How DO they get those veggies so soon?  Well, some have greenhouses, others use what’s called High Hoops [University of MN].  They’re not very practical for most home gardeners but I’m sure thankful for the delightful veggies they produce!


Grilled summer lettuces recipe from Organic Life magazine:

A little char gives greens a complex, steak-like flavor.  For the liveliest salad, choose head lettuces in a variety of colors and textures.

  • 5 mixed heads of lettuce (such as romaine, escarole, radicchio, kale and butter) halved or quartered with cores intact
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling or place a grate over a campfire.  Brush lettuces on all sides with oil as needed.  Season with salt and pepper.  Grill, turning frequently, until wilted and lightly charred on all sides, 2 to 10 minutes, depending on lettuce and heat.  Transer to a serving plate.

In a small, lidded jar, add the ingredients for the dressing, shake well and drizzle over lettuces.

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Weed blocking superheroes

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Weed blocking superheroes

Weeding not your bag?  Me either!  Although occasionally I find it cathartic, I prefer not to HAVE to do it.  How about some weed-blocking plants!  They pack a punch to knock out weeds, but they are invasive.

The samurai of weed blockers do so by shading weed seeds and not allowing them to germinate.  Here are just a few to get you started:

Lady’s Mantle is a great part shade plant and grows to about 18 inches tall.  Try a variety called ‘Thriller’.

Moss phlox ‘Emerald Blue’

Creeping phlox

Creeping phlox

This pretty groundcover, moss phlox,  likes full sun and is zone 2 hardy!  wow…

Liriope handles nearly any condition.  Plant in part shade in zone 4.

Creeping Jenny is another weed blocker that appreciates sun but will do fine in part shade. The caveat to this plant is that it can get brown edges.  I just cut it back then.

Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny

Sedum can be grown in sun to part shade and offers several cultivars.  I have green with red stems and little yellow flowers and also ‘red dragon’

sedum red dragon

a couple of sedum varieties and creeping jenny

a couple of sedum varieties and creeping jenny

Snow-on-the-Mountain is a great weed blocker for shade.  This stuff can’t hardly be killed.

Snow on the Mountain for soundcloud

Snow on the Mountain

Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme

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Perennial weed whipping

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Perennial weed whipping

I enjoy an occasional weeding session, it’s cathartic.

Okay, he's actually trying to pull a beet out of the ground but you catch my drift

Okay, he’s actually trying to pull a beet out of the ground but you catch my drift

Annual weeds tend to be easier to pull out, it’s the perennial weeds that drive us crazy!  Those roots that break off in the soil will spread and make more!  In the vegetable garden, it’s tougher because you really don’t want this stuff on your food!!!!  I have Milkweed in my vegetable garden that I don’t want to get rid of as I’m hoping to host some Monarch butterflies!

This was taken before I planted this year

This was taken before I planted this year – the milkweed is in the middle of my veggie garden!


When the weeds start winning, it’s time to break out the heavy artillery, HOWEVER, please use extreme caution and don’t over use.  [personally I don’t use Roundup or anything with glyphosate] And never use chemicals in your VEGETABLE garden unless they specifically say it’s okay….  I am battling to much milkweed but only hand pull.

Choose a windless day, using a cheap sponge paint brush and a cool whip container of weed killer, paint the weeds leaves on both sides.  This will send the chemical through the plant into the root system killing the weed.

paint sponge

The other method is to use a gallon milk jug with the top and bottom cut out, place the jug over the offending weed and spray it with weed killer.

milk jug to spray weed

Major thing to remember – SAFETY first!  Use protective gear as indicated on the package and be very careful not to get the chemical on any plant you want to keep!

What is a weed





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Little reminders – a how-to on planting containers and perennials

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Little reminders

Sometimes we forget that not everyone knows how to do things we’ve done for years.  In that spirit, today is about Little Reminders.

When planting containers:

  • Right Plant, Right Place (I know we talked about this but always a good thing to reinforce)
  • In container planting, mix perlite with your potting soil to lighten it and allow better drainage
  • plant your purchase at the level it was growing in (most of the time)
  • remember to allow enough room to water your plant, don’t plant it at the top of the container – allow about 1 to 2 inches from the top
  • place your plants and tamp down, if you need more soil, add it and tamp again being sure not to bury the plant
  • In hot weather you’ll need to water those plants twice a day


Yellow lantana

Yellow lantana

Coleus planter 2015

When planting perennials:

  • dig your hole at least twice as wide as the plant’s temporary pot – the reason being to allow the roots an easier time growing into the soil.  IF you’ve already prepared the planting bed (adding compost) then the soil should be fluffy enough that you don’t have to dig a hole that big, just enough for the plant to fit in!
  • plant your transplant at the same level it was in the pot it came in (unless there’s more soil on TOP of the container it’s in)
  • be sure to loosen the plant gently out of it’s container – place it on it’s side, tap the sides, make sure any roots coming out the bottom aren’t going to “catch” and pull the plant out
  • make sure you water that dry plant before filling the hole with soil
  • tamp down the soil with your hand or a tool, gently.  This takes out air pockets that may make your plant sink too deep
  • if the roots of the plant are wound around itself, then unwind them and loosen them up.  This will allow the roots to spread more easily.  You don’t want them growing around rather than out, this will girdle the plant and potentially kill it
  • When placing your perennials, keep in mind their mature size and space accordingly
  • And be sure to keep a close eye on your new plantings for the first month in particular
  • bareroot plants should be soaked 24 hours before planting

new perennial plantings



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Transporting your purchases

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Transporting your purchases

Most dogs love the wind in their fur, motorcyclists like the wind in their hair, bugs in their teeth.  I see lots of people driving down the road with new trees and shrubs hanging out of their trunks, trailers and truck beds.  Branches bent beyond normal as they’re whisked away in highway winds.  Leaves being beaten to a pulp.  There are so many reasons this is not good.

Let’s say the leaves actually survive the trip, that wind has just sucked out any moisture they may have had from the nursery and they’re now in a weakened state and will be even more stressed when they arrive in their new home.

Ahhh, this would be a NO

Ahhh, this would be a NO

plant sale purchase 2016My plant sale purchases above fit nicely in my old CRV but I also have plastic available to keep it at least somewhat clean!  Any larger shrubs, I’ll lay down.  If I can’t fit them in my vehicle, I’ll make sure they’re wrapped for transport.

wrapped plants

Tips to live by:

First, always buy healthy plants to begin with.  Look it over carefully.  Check for yellowed or spotted leaves, dead branches and overall health.

Smaller purchases may take longer to grow to the size you want but they will adjust to their new home much quicker, have a better chance of survival and are usually cheaper.

You’ve selected the best of the best, now you need to wrap it.  Some local nurseries are very good about wrapping twine around new trees.  I would suggest going further.  If you have some old sheets or tarp, bring them with you.

Wrap each purchase with a layer of sheet or the tarp, secure with twine and make sure the trunk of the tree or shrub isn’t going to rub on anything when you go over bumps.  If you can’t plant right away, then store your new trees or shrubs in a shaded area and water enough to keep the roots and soil moist till you can get them planted.





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Plant sale mania

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Plant sale mania

It’s plant sale time at many area garden centers.  Oh, those glorious buys you can get!  Just remember, they’re only a deal if they grow.  Make sure you’re getting healthy stock.  If possible, loosen the plant and hold it by the stem very close to the soil line, pull it out of the pot and look at the roots.  Check that they’re not yellow or mushy.  The last thing you want is root rot!

Check over the leaves and stems, look for any insect damage.  If a few leaves are yellowed, well, I wouldn’t get too picky, after all you are getting a deal but you don’t want to see a LOT of the leaves that way.  Make the garden center your last stop of the day, you don’t want to leave them in the hot trunk of your car for long or they’ll be toast.   Get your goodies home and plant asap.  This is the time of year when new plantings need extra t-l-c.  With warm, dry conditions these plants take longer to establish.

When planting now, you need to really give your new beauties a good start.  That does NOT mean fertilizer.  It means planting them at the right depth, adding a lot of compost to keep the soil fluffy and allow the roots an easy time to grow into their new home.  Add an inch or 2 of mulch for water retention.  Also, WATER WATER WATER.  I don’t mean drown them, but do make sure they’re watered well (about an inch or so a week) until the ground freezes!  Some nurseries will tell you exactly how much to water your new plants.  Follow their directions!

Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’

AFTER the ground freezes, then add another 3 inches or so of mulch.  This will help to stabilize the ground temperature.  Heaving can be a problem.  When that happens, sometimes the plant can be pushed up out of the ground enough to expose the roots, NOT something you want!

ps  check over plants carefully before buying them.  You may not be paying a lot, but you still want good product.

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Ewww, what’s that? Diagnostics

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Ewww, what’s that? Diagnostics

I think we sweated out enough last weekend to say we are officially in summer, although the solstice doesn’t happen until next week!  Of course, that means bugs (be it insect or disease) and weeds are coming in with abandon.  I think the toughest part of gardening is trying to figure out why a plant isn’t thriving!

With heat and no rain, I’ve noticed some issues on my monarda and daylilies.  Leaves have necrotic (dark, crunchy) edges, yellowed leaves at the base and/or flower drop.

Is it an insect, is it a disease, are my plants getting the nutrients they need?  Enough water, too much water?  Maybe this particular plant doesn’t like afternoon sun or one day you’re looking down on something that makes you go “eeewww, what’s that?”  I know enough to know that I will be forever learning.  Especially when it comes to diagnostics.

Rose sawfly damage

Rose sawfly damage

Here are some questions that a Master Gardener might ask of you to find out what’s wrong with your plant?

  • Exactly what kind of plant is it? (may sound easy but some folks don’t know)
  • Is it growing in the right conditions?  Are it’s requirements being met?
  • Compared to a healthy plant, what is wrong with yours?
  • If the leaves are brown or yellowed, are they crispy or flexible?
  • Do you see signs of insects?
  • Are there brown spots on the leaves?  If so, are they round or random? New leaves or old leaves?

Rose sawfly

Rose sawfly

Aphids were all over my sneezeweed.  Ugh – squished ’em and blew ’em off with the hose….

Aphids – yellow

Oftentimes there is more than 1 reason a plant is not doing well.  In trees, it can take years to show decline.  Weather conditions play a huge role in issues with large plants!

winter damage on pine - my next door neighbor

winter damage on pine

What’s Wrong With My Plant [University of MN Extension diagnostics]

Plant Disease diagnostic clinic [Cornell University]

Diseases and disorders [NC State extension]

Many times diagnosing a problem is not so easy.  Years ago I had something eating away the leaves on my grapes.  After a closer look, I could see lots of little black worms.  After looking through books and going online I narrowed it down to 2 choices.  Then I found a picture of exactly who the culprit was online, Flea Beetle larva.  Before using any chemical, know what you’re dealing with.  Floating row covers can help.  Those are, usually, plastic covers you place over your plants using hoop stakes to keep them above the growth of your plants.

Floating row covers will protect many vegetable garden plants from insects and rabbits too!

Chemical damage can also kill:

Imprelis damage on White Pine

Imprelis damage on White Pine


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Strawberry fields forever…

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Strawberry fields forever…

The berries are blooming and fruiting!  It’s strawberry fields forever… or  beginning in mid to late June according to the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture.  Which means that Wisconsin and the Dakotas usually follow closely.  Northern Minnesota may have to wait till the beginning of July.


The Minnesota Grown Directory includes 80 strawberry farms, 31 blueberry farms, and 41 summer raspberry farms, along with apple orchards, farmers markets, garden centers, and other places to buy directly from farmers.   Check your local County extension offices too for information.

Berry picking is a great family event.  Just remember to dress for the weather and wear sunscreen!

Strawberries should be eaten within three days of picking for best flavor!  And wash them too.  For longer preservation, wash the berries, remove their stems, and freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. After freezing, place the strawberries in freezer bags.

Should you choose to grow your own, there are some great berries for colder climates.  ‘Itasca’ comes to mind as does ‘Tristar’ and ‘Tribute’.  Pick berries every other day for peak ripeness and to avoid leaving fruit lay fallen on the ground.  this will just attract insects and disease you don’t want!  Besides, as good as homegrown and farm fresh tastes, why waste any!


The U of MN extension has lots more information on varieties and growing essentials. There are 3 types of strawberries that can be grown here.  June bearing, everbearing, which actually deliver 2 crops, one in the Spring and another in the Fall and the newer “day-neutral’ that bear throughout the season.   Instructions on the U of MN website should hold true for anywhere in the Upper Midwest.

Alpine Strawberries are a ‘day-neutral’ sort and different from the rest of the crowd.  The U of MN says they are “not a cultivar but a different type/species of strawberry. Grows well in part shade. Does not produce runners, so plants remain small” and so does the fruit. It’s like eating candy from what I’ve read!   Here’s a link to a place that sells only Alpinestrawberries

Alpine Strawberry



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